LACONIA — After 24 years as the first and only executive director of the Laconia Area Community Land Trust, Linda Harvey announced this week that she will retire in May.
During Harvey's tenure the trust has invested $87 million in developing 277 units of permanently affordable housing in four municipalities — Laconia, Meredith, Tilton and Wolfeboro — that together have housed 1,660 people and she is leaving a legacy of another 89 units in the pipeline. At the same time, thousands of residents of the Lakes Region have taken part in the financial literacy and homebuyer education programs, offered by the trust without charge, many of whom have become homeowners.
Harvey said that apart from spending more time with family and friends and ultimately returning to Maine, where she was born and raised, she has no specific plans for her retirement.
Although Harvey and the trust have earned dozens of awards over the years, she has worked out of the limelight, never becoming a household name, but few have left a bolder stamp on the Lakes Region community or given a helping hand to so many of its residents.
In a prepared statement Jason Hicks, who chairs the trust's board of trustees, expressed the gratitude of the trustees for Harvey's "remarkable service." He recalled that "as a sole employee starting with a borrowed folding chair, she grew the organization into a nationally recognized success story." Harvey, he continued, "engaged local communities to recognize a need for affordable housing for its citizens and helped them provide it. She developed a vast network of committed stakeholders to create permanently affordable community assets. She assembled a team of highly skilled staff to provide programs of excellence and impact to thousands of Lakes Region residents. We will be forever mindful and proud of her achievements and stewardship. It is with mixed emotions that wish her well in her future endeavors, and we transition to new leadership."
A native of Rockport, Maine, Harvey came to New Hampshire 34 years ago with degrees in social work from the University of Connecticut. She said that the more she worked in providing mental health and social services the more she realized that the welfare of many of her clients was compromised by the lack suitable housing. She was not alone in sensing the need and by the late 1980s a diverse group began meeting in the basement of the Congregational Church, where they wrestled with addressing the poor condition and high cost of much of the housing stock in the city. Harvey said the most pressing need was for family housing, units with three or more bedrooms, which were in especially scarce supply.
"We chose the land trust model," Harvey said, explaining that it ensured both that the program would be controlled by local citizens and the housing it provided would be forever affordable. The trust was established in 1993. Harvey said that before building homes the first step was to "build a foundation of friendships and partnerships" among city officials, local bankers, civic organizations, church groups and the like. "The saying was that whenever two or more people got together," Harvey remarked, "Linda Harvey was there talking about the Laconia Area Community Land Trust."
Harvey said the first project undertaken by the trust was the rehabilitation of 10 duplexes scattered about the city, including some properties donated by local banks, which acquired them through foreclosure in the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The trust identified three neighborhoods with the most substandard housing stock then those properties most in need of repair. Altogether 32 units, mostly in duplexes, and another 10 units in two buildings, were rehabilitated to become permanently affordable housing. "Once they were rehabbed," she said, "there was a ripple effect and other landlords and homeowners in the neighborhood improved their properties."
Soon afterwards, in 1994, residents of the Avery Hill neighborhood in Laconia approached the trust. "That was our first big project," Harvey said, explaining that the trust acquired a number of buildings, which were demolished or rebuilt, and developed 14 residential units in seven buildings in their place along with green space and a playground. "It was a $1 million project financed with 14 different funding sources," she said. Three years later, the trust rehabilitated 18 family units in nine buildings in the Pine Hill neighborhood. And in 2001 another 19 units in seven buildings, including the Batchelder Street School, were completed in the "hospital hill" area.
In 2012 the trust was chosen by Neighbor Works America for its portfolio strengthening program, which along with support from the the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority provided technical assistance and financial resources to upgrade 60 of the earliest units the trust developed.
The trust redeveloped the site of the former Vernitron factory on Union Avenue in 2004, where tons of contaminated soil threatening the Winnipesaukee River were removed. What became Millview consists of 18 units divided among five colonial buildings overlooking the river and Belknap and Busiel mills and Avery Dam. Two years later, the Mechanic Street School in Lakeport was converted to house four one bedroom and two two bedroom apartments,
Meanwhile, the trust began hearing from towns in the region about their need for affordable rental housing. In Meredith, the trust acquired property on Boynton Road where it developed Pinecrest Apartments, 32 one, two and three bedroom units, and Frances Court Manufactured Housing Park with six two and three bedroom units. The trust built 48 apartments at Harriman Hill in Wolfeboro and another 47 at Lochmere Meadows in Tilton.
This year, after working outside the city for a decade, the trust opened River's Edge, a three-story with 700 feet of frontage on the Winnipesaukee River and 32 apartments, a dozen one-bedroom units and a score of two-bedroom units. River's Edge is also home to Community Infant Daycare, operated by Lakes Region Child Care Services, and an office of HOMEteam, which offers information and counsel about buying, renting and maintaining a home.
Harvey said that she is especially proud that the trust has paid some $3 million in property taxes on the properties it has developed, which on top of direct investments in permanently affordable housing units and counseling programs to foster home ownership, represents a contribution of more than $90 million to the communities served by the trust.
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